It’s almost comical, but I can’t remember why I go to the store, yet I can remember back over 55 years when some records were banned by the FCC.
When I was 14 going on 15, I had no idea who the FCC were, but they banned something and I wanted to hear it. I was at one of my father’s friend’s house and his friend’s daughter was 16 and she had a copy of the “banned” recording. So we went down to the basement and listened to “Annie had a Baby” and it was just great.
First off I loved the music, and second it was banned, and I was listening to it! The music of some black artists could get a little explicit, but in the mid 1950’s people had to be careful or it would be pulled off the shelves. Now that just made us try to find it harder.
So let me take you back 56 years and listen to music that by today’s standards would be very tame, but not back then. So let’s take a short look at another member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990), the late Hank Ballard.
(Nov 18, 1927 – Mar 2, 2003)
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
Born John Henry Kendricks in Bessemer, Alabama, Ballard grew up in Detroit, Michigan with relatives, where he began singing in church and later aspired to a career in music.
Although Hank did sing in a church choir, his major vocal inspiration during his formative years, he confessed in an interview, was none other than the “Singing Cowboy,” Gene Autry, and one song in particular, his signature, “Back In The Saddle Again,” captured his fancy.
Back in the 40s, blues and R&B existed on Race labels which were sold basically by word of mouth, but not yet broadcast via the radio; so it really wasn’t that an unusual admission that he was influenced by C&W broadcasts.
In 1951, Ballard formed a doo-wop group. He was discovered by the legendary band leader Johnny Otis, and was signed to sing with a group called The Royals, along with Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker. The Royals had already signed to Federal Records in Cincinnati when Ballard joined.
The group then changed its name to The Midnighters to avoid confusion with The “5” Royals. Sutton was replaced by Lawson Smith, while Woods was replaced by Norman Thrasher. Tucker was replaced first by Arthur Porter and then by Cal Green. The group soon released “Get It” (1953), an R&B song with sexually oriented lyrics, which many radio stations refused to play.
In 1954, Ballard wrote a song called “Work With Me Annie” that was drawn from “Get It“. It became The Midnighters’ first major R&B hit, going to #1 on the R&B charts and also selling well in mainstream markets, along with the answer songs “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie“. All were banned by the FCC from radio air play!
Their third major hit was “Sexy Ways,” a song that cemented the band’s reputation as one of the most risqué groups of the time. They are an illustration of why white radio stations tended to avoid playing songs by black R&B performers. For example, in the song “Open Up the Back Door“, he sings a line “I want to make a little cream”… [Editors note: LOL! – Whoa – ‘Way to go, Hank!]
They also recorded the Answer Song to “Dance with me Henry“, called “Henry has flat feet“. Hank used the “Annie had a baby” hook melody, which he often did.
Let’s first take a look at the music that caused all of the controversy on the Federal Label. All music was recorded with The Midnighters, formerly “The Royals”. All songs charted on the R&B Charts only.
1. Work with me Annie/ Federal 12169/ 1954
2. Annie had a Baby/ Federal 12195/ 1954
3. Annie’s Aunt Fannie/ Federal 12200
4. Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t dance no more)/ Federal 12224/ 1955
By the time we got to the mid-fifties, things started to change. Hank would record a song in 1959 called “Teardrops on your Letter“, which was moderately successful.
But Dick Clark was interested in the B side (or throw away side), a song Hank wrote called “The Twist“. We all know that Ernest Evans (Chubby Checker) would record that song 1 year later and start one of the biggest dance crazes ever, and the rest is part of the History of Rock and Roll.
1. Finger Poppin’ Time/ King 5341/ 7/18/60/ # 7 Billboard
2A. Teardrops on your Letter/ King 5171/ 8/29/60/
2B. The Twist/ B side/ # 28 Billboard
3. Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go/ King 5400/ 10/17/60/ # 6 Billboard R&B # 1 3 weeks
4. The Hoochi Coochi Coo/ King 5430/ 1/16/61/ # 23 Billboard
5. Let’s Go Again (Where we went last night)/ King 5459/ 3/20/61/ # 39 Billboard
6. The Continental Walk/ King 5491/ 3/1/61/ # 33 Billboard
So that’s a brief look at the first banned songs and Artist that I had ever experienced, all when I was at the tender age of 15.
Their label also changed from Federal to King. They had no hits in 1956-58. Then between 1959 and 1961 they had several more both on the R&B and Pop charts, including “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” and the Grammy-nominated “Finger Popping Time“, which hit #6 and #7, respectively, on the Billboard Pop Top 10 .
In 1959 Ballard’s song “The Twist” was released as the B-side of “Teardrops on Your Letter“. A year later Chubby Checker’s cover version of the song went to #1 in 1960 on the pop charts. (It would return to the top of the charts again at #1 in 1962. The only song in the rock n roll era to do so, after a year off the charts.)
Though this brought about renewed interest in Ballard and The Midnighters for a time, this lasted for only a few years, and the group dissolved in 1965.
Ballard tried to launch a solo career, working with James Brown. Hank Ballard re-formed The Midnighters, and The Midnighters Band and on tour from the mid 1980’s til 2002. They released a live album on Charly, other albums, on After Hours, Pool Party, Greatest Hits by Rhino, Ace, Collectibles and now Bear Family 1952 to 1962.
Hank always thanked, Chubby Checker and Dick Clark, for popularizing his song “The Twist“. In 1990 Hank Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though the original Midnighters, Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker, were not.
On March 2, 2003, he died of throat cancer in his Los Angeles home, aged 75.